MAMI: Fare and foul

Payel Majumdar Upreti | Updated on October 26, 2018

Action traction: The MAMI organisers abruptly dropped films from the original line-up after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced against key members of their production teams   -  EMMANUAL YOGINI

The ongoing Mumbai film festival has been grappling with controversy amidst #MeToo allegations

If film festivals be there, can #MeToo be far behind? This year, charges of sexual harassment have been dominating cine fests around the world. Mumbai’s ongoing festival — called ‘JIO MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star’ — hasn’t been left behind either. The Mumbai film industry has been reeling under the shock of stalwarts being charged with rape and molestation. The festival has responded by dropping from its schedule films linked with those accused of assault. It has also cancelled the celebratory movie mela, an event that runs parallel with its screenings.

The festival opened in Mumbai on October 25 and carries on till November 1. Films are still being dropped, as more and more people find themselves caught in the #MeToo maelstrom. Film fans are concerned that some of their favourite personalities figure among the accused, which has led to their films being scrapped. “We were in the eye of the storm and it had to be black and white. It had to convey a tough stand,” said Anupama Chopra, one of the directors of the film festival, in an interview to The Hindu. “Truth is that it [dropping the films] was very tough and heartbreaking for us, as it is for the filmmakers.”

The annual festival organised by the Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image (MAMI), a public trust, is a much-awaited event. But the 20th Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star ran into controversy even before it could kick off. One of the first talking points was the dropping of Bebaak from the schedule. The film’s principal producer, Anurag Kashyap, had faced flak for allegedly protecting Vikas Bahl, the director of Queen, who had been accused of harassment three years ago. Kashyap has also stepped down from the board of the festival.

The Bebaak episode has triggered a storm. Its director Shazia Iqbal described the decision to drop the film as “completely arbitrary”. In an open letter to festival directors Kiran Rao, Smriti Kiran and Anupama Chopra, Iqbal questioned why her film had been taken off when it had nothing to do with harassers. “The decision that has been taken against me is completely arbitrary. This is my first short film, and I have been a MAMI member since 2015, also crowd-funding it in that year. As a cinema lover, being accused of derailing a festival, and not being a part of it is the biggest blow to me,” she told BLink over the phone.

The festival directors did not comment on the controversy but had earlier said that those films had been dropped which were linked to an accused who had stepped down from a post or had admitted to the crime of harassment. Films where the accused occupies a principal post — such as that of the main producer — had been dropped from the original line-up. Apart from Bebaak, the scrapped films included Binnu Ka Sapna. Chintan Ruparel, the principal producer of the film, has been accused of harassment. The festival directors also said that films which were linked to men who had been accused of harassment but had denied the charges were being screened.

In a conundrum: Festival directors Kiran Rao and Anupama Chopra   -  EMMANUAL YOGINI



Another film under attack is Balekempa. The film was withdrawn after a crew member publicly accused its director, Ere Gowda, of sexual assault. The film was originally placed in the India Gold section, which is a competitive category for Indian feature films. The film’s producers Zoo Entertainment have withdrawn the film from all festival commitments. It was also withdrawn from the Dharamshala International Film Festival, where it was to have been the closing film.

The #MeToo movement has felled other films, too. AIB’s first feature film, Chintu Ka Birthday was dropped from the festival following allegations against two of the co-founders of AIB. Actor-director Rajat Kapoor’s Kadakh shared the same fate.

Iqbal, however, claimed that there was no logic to the festival organisers’ decision to screen some films, and axe some others. “Los Silencios and The Gold-Laden Sheep and Sacred Mountain are two films that have Kashyap as an associate and co-producer on it. However they have been spared the axe at MAMI,” she told BLink.

The question being asked is how fair such moves are. A film being taken off a festival does not just affect the person against whom charges have been made, but also scores of others involved with the film. The stand taken by the festival is having an effect on other industries, too. Digital streaming service Hotstar has taken Better Life Foundation, a web series featuring Utsav Chakraborty, accused of sexual offences, off the air. Actors Kaneez Surka, Naveen Richard and Sumukhi Suresh have come out in defence of the show, and said scrapping it affected other crew members who were a part of it.

Iqbal said she was still to hear from the festival directors. “I have written to them via email and text asking for an explanation. However, I haven’t got any,” she said.

The festival directors had previously said their decision was not a “hasty” one. “The reason we would say it wasn’t a hasty decision is that... this stand felt right to us. We felt that a certain amount of disruption (was) also required to wake up and take notice of the fact that something serious is happening,” Chopra had said in the interview.

Though the festival has been mired in controversy, the schedule — despite last-minute changes — includes films that cine-goers are lining up for. Playing under 20 sections are the best of digital content, international films and Indian cinema. The category Spotlight is for new work from critically acclaimed Indian filmmakers, World Cinema deals with international work being shown in India for the first time, and Restored Classics is all about old films restored. Half Ticket is for children’s films, India Story for regional cinema and The New Medium for cinema celebrating a new language in terms of content and form.

With #MeToo challenging gender equations, the festival also features films that take forward the dialogue on women’s rights and politics. Soni, directed by Ivan Ayr, looks at inequality brought on by pre-defined gender roles, while Rima Das’s Bulbul Can Sing negotiates gender identities through a coming-of-age tale of teenagers in an Assamese village.

“I have always had problems accepting gender segregation that comes with puberty. The burden of it falls on young girls whose lives are curtailed. My film is a response to it,” said Das.

Sexism at home is a common theme in many of the films, such as Vasanth S Sai’s Tamil film Sivaranjani and Two Other Women, about three young women whose individuality is attacked because of early marriage and pregnancy. Similarly Imago, a Marathi film directed by Karan Chavan and Vikram Patil, explores the life of a young teenage girl who is discriminated against because she suffers from leucoderma, a pigmentation problem. Ottamuri Velicham, a Malayalam movie directed by Rahul Riji Nair, explores the story of a woman’s fight against her husband who physically dominates her.

Oxfam India has instituted an award titled ‘Best Film on Gender Equality’, to celebrate cinema that challenges gender-based social norms. MAMI is also holding a panel discussion on the #MeToo movement. Steps taken by the festival are in sync with responses to the global movement against harassment by film festivals around the world. The Cannes Film Festival, for instance, started an anti-sexual harassment hotline. It, however, remains to be seen if the Indian film fraternity comes out with a statement on the issue — as did the 82 women who wore black on the red carpet at the Golden Globes in California this year.

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Published on October 26, 2018
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